Forward For Liberty Blog Has Moved!

25 Sep

Missing the Forward for Liberty blog? That’s because it has moved!

You can now find the most recent Wisconsin civil liberties news and opinion from the ACLU of Wisconsin on our brand new website: The Forward for Liberty blog now lives with other information such as how to become a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin, what kinds of community education programs we offer, and the news from our legal department.

Supporting us has never been easier. Visit today to donate and keep our important watchdog efforts going.

This Week’s Citations at Capitol Abridge Our Right to Freely Assemble

11 Sep

The Wisconsin State Capitol Police began ticketing protesters in the Capitol Rotunda last week for holding up signs without a permit. According to a Department of Administration spokesperson, on Monday police issued more tickets both for “unlawful display of a sign and not having a permit.” The citations were served at the protesters home to “avoid confrontation and maintain order at the Capitol.”  

Since the extraordinary events of February 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has stepped up its efforts to protect the free speech rights of all Wisconsin residents at the Capitol and our volunteer legal observers are now at the Capitol Rotunda every day during the noon hour.

Today, in response to the State Capitol Police Chief’s new enforcement strategy, Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin made the following statement:

David Erwin, the State Capitol Police Chief since July 2012, has had a rocky start.  His on-again, off-again, on-again enforcement of regulations governing events and protests in the Capitol Rotunda suggests problems. Either he lacks an understanding of our constitutional rights or is willing to abridge the rights of all Wisconsin residents to peaceable assembly and free speech at the Capitol. 

Monday’s tickets are unconstitutional. It is ludicrous to say that it is illegal to hold up a sign or that groups as small as four people need to apply for a permit 72 hours in advance if they are promoting any cause. 

The police served the tickets at the protesters homes. This suggests that the police know the identity of many of protesters who regularly exercise their rights at the Capitol. It also suggests that this new enforcement effort is a high priority for the Capitol Police. The ACLU believes that there are better uses for the Capitol Police force’s limited resources. 

In a related matter, in an interview posted on on September 10, 2012 and on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, remarks from Chief Erwin have exposed another problem. According to the site, Erwin said, “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.” 

It is unclear what group of people he’s talking about; it may just be people who allegedly are disrespectful or call others names. Regardless, in our post-9/11 world, it is inappropriate to accuse someone of terrorizing others in this loose way. It is hard to imagine former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs making such an accusation. Erwin admits that Tubbs did a great job during the large-scale protests as evidenced by the small number of arrests and the fact that no injuries occurred under Tubbs’ leadership.  Perhaps Erwin needs to learn how to defuse situations rather than engage in name calling. 

Victory! Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights finds state is violating civil rights rules

4 Sep

If federal transportation money is spent on expanding highways while dollars for inner-city public transportation are slashed, how can transit-dependent people – who are much more likely to be people of color – get to their jobs? What impact does expanding highways to the suburbs have on a highly segregated city?

These are the kinds of questions groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Midwest Environmental Advocates asked the Wisconsin Department of Transportation back in April of 2011. We raised these questions in the name of racial and environmental justice because we knew the state was headed in the wrong direction on transportation priorities. And we learned a big part of the reason these issues weren’t being dealt with fairly was that WisDOT had simply not followed federal rules that require it to have a plan to implement civil rights requirements – and to update that plan every year. Instead, we learned in 2011 that WisDOT hadn’t had a Title VI plan since 2004 – and officials at the Federal Highway Administration office in Madison knew it and let them disregard the rules.

That’s simply the wrong thing to do. When states use hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars, they have to make sure that the benefits of those funds are shared fairly. And it isn’t fair to add to urban sprawl and ignore public transit – especially when the state knows that communities of color depend on transit much more than other groups. It means making sure the state follows Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and ensuring that transportation programs do not effectively discriminate against people of color. In the highly segregated City of Milwaukee, expanding suburban highways while cutting public transit will keep transit-dependent people from jobs, medical care, affordable housing and other needs.

Last month, after a yearlong review, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights in Washington DC agreed with us: they found that the state was “deficient” for not complying with the civil rights rules.  Civil rights officials gave the state 90 days to improve. We’ll be keeping an eye on them as well.

And our other work for racial and environmental justice in southeastern Wisconsin isn’t over: earlier this month we filed a lawsuit in federal court over a highway expansion plan to rebuild and widen the Zoo Interchange, a plan that completely ignored the transit needs of urban communities.

Transit advocates believe that we must have a more balanced plan. When it comes to our tax dollars, fairness means that the most disfranchised in Wisconsin aren’t denied investment in their transportation options.

The story was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin Public Radio statewide headlines today, as well as a wire story in Sheboygan, Wausau and Pierce County. It also got a mention in the Political Environment blog. Attorney Karyn Rotker was also interviewed on 1290 AM WMCS on Tuesday.

Do Four People Make a Rally? ACLU of WI Asks in Response to Miller-Erwin Letter Exchange

31 Aug

On August 28, Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller sent a letter to Capitol Police Chief David Erwin expressing his concerns that the citizens of Wisconsin should have a free and open access to the Capitol building. In a letter of response by Capitol Police Chief David Erwin on August 30, Chief Erwin outlines why he believes permit requirements for political protests are reasonable.

Ultimately the ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new rules issued by the Wisconsin State Department of Administration, including the requirement for groups as few as four people to secure a permit for a “rally… for the purpose of actively promoting any cause,” are not reasonable. Particularly if the rules are applied to the Solidarity Sing Along which takes place at a reasonable time (the hours between noon and 1:00 p.m. are defined in the DOA’s rules as not being normal working hours) and place such as in the rotunda, where state of Wisconsin has long allowed the public to hold rallies of all sizes.

“Chief Erwin said the permit process has been in place for decades,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “However, I have been organizing volunteer legal observers to witness protests at the Capitol over the past six years and it has been my experience that Capitol Police have asked for voluntary compliance in filling out permits and in practice have only required permits for protests that require extra staffing, closed streets, access to building electricity and other logistical needs. There has typically been reasonable accommodation for protests large and small, planned or spontaneous.”

The Constitution allows “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. But such restrictions on the use of space must be content-neutral. By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch.

In addition, any restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Chief Erwin suggests that permits are required for police to adequately accommodate public safety interests, but it is unreasonable to suggest that a group as small as four would overwhelm the police force. Further, the First Amendment requires and the DOA’s own rules allow for defined, spontaneous events. It is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to have staffing plans in place to have the flexibility to protect the safety of all announced and unannounced visitors to the building.

The participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have worked with the Capitol police and staff to accommodate multiple users of the Capitol rotunda. This relationship can and should continue to meet the needs of police to make narrowly tailored, content-neutral space management decisions.

As for the public safety concerns outlined in Erwin’s letter, we believe it is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to ensure that the Capitol building is both a safe place to work and for demonstrators to engage in peaceful speech activity in the rotunda.  To threaten to enforce a permit requirement against peaceful, cooperative protesters on the basis of safety concerns arising from the alleged actions of a few individuals would punish those engaging in protected speech activity. If criminal harassment or intimidation is occurring against Capitol workers or singers alike, it is the responsibility of police to address it, not crackdown on peaceful protest.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to coordinate volunteer legal observers to be witnesses of events at the Capitol over the weekday noon hour and monitor the enforcement of administrative rules.

ACLU Report Finds Paul Ryan Light Years Away from Civil Liberties – news from

17 Aug

The following blog post was taken from an August 11 post on  ACLU Liberty Watch, a website of the ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 campaign being run by the American Civil Liberties Union. Visit to learn more about the ACLU’s civil libertarian take on all of the news surrounding the Presidential election campaigns. 

In response to Mitt Romney’s announcement of his vice presidential pick of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the American Civil Liberties Union Liberty Watch 2012 campaign released a brief report that reveals an appalling civil liberties record for Ryan.

The report finds that Ryan, the congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st District, holds almost uniformly harmful views on five key civil liberties issues including a humane immigration policy, LGBT equality, reproductive rights, torture and indefinite detention and fair voting access. The report is based on the white paper released by ACLU Liberty Watch 2012, which can be viewed here.

The report was also cited in a recent opinion piece in The Nation where writer Ben Adler called Rep. Ryan out for not really following Ayn Rand’s philosophies on freedom when it came to his staunchly social conservative agenda.

“Paul Ryan may end up a heartbeat away from the presidency but he’ll be light years from civil liberties,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “Paired with Romney’s already-abysmal record on civil liberties, Ryan’s positions only take this ticket further from the vision of our founding fathers.”  Romero also issued a statement about how Vice Presidential hopeful Ryan would have a plan to unravel civil liberties.

The report found that Ryan held anti-civil liberties positions across all five issue areas.  Below are some highlights from the report.

On immigration, Ryan voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. On LGBT equality, he voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In 2011, Ryan voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs. In addition, he believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s positions:  These positions were taken from the candidate’s public statements, published positions and actions taken as an elected official, including his most recent voting records, where applicable.
On Immigration:
  • Believes efforts should be focused on border security and that pursuing the DREAM Act at this time would be a “serious mistake” (2012).
  • Voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border (2006).
On LGBT Equality:
  • Voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (2011).
  • Supports the 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin constitution banning marriage equality (2006).
  • Voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment (2004, 2006).
On Reproductive Freedom:
  • Voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs (2011). 
  • Cosponsored a bill that exempted any employer from providing contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health care and opposed the Obama administration’s compromise to require insurance companies to cover contraception (2011).  
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the Protect Life Act (2011). 
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (May 2011). 
  • Voted to prohibit federal funding for abortion care training in health care centers. (May 2011) 
On Torture and Indefinite Detention Policy:
  • Voted against defense legislation that authorizes the president to send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial (2011).
On Voting Rights:
  • Believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections (2012).

ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the this year’s presidential election. Follow Liberty Watch on Twitter: @ACLULW, or ‘Like’ the Facebook page:

ACLU of Wisconsin & Midwest Environmental Advocates Fight For Faith-Based Groups, Black Health Coalition in Transit Lawsuit

7 Aug

Yesterday, two organizations supporting racial and environmental justice – the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) – filed suit in federal court in Madison, seeking to block the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s efforts to spend $1.7 billion to rebuild and expand the Zoo Interchange at the same time transit is being slashed. The lawsuit challenges the decisions of WisDOT and federal transportation officials to approve the project without including any transit component.

“One of MICAH’s biggest concerns is the extreme and unacceptable rate of joblessness in the central city, for persons of color in general and African-American men in particular,” stated Rev. Willie Brisco, MICAH President. “We all know that people of color depend on transit to get to work at all. We need more transit – to more places where the jobs are – not just highways that don’t help these members of our community get to work.”

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin follows World Health Organization policies and principles holding that you cannot have healthy people in a sick community,” added BHCW President/CEO, Dr. Patricia McManus. “Allowing multibillion-dollar highway projects to move forward while transit moves backwards reduces the opportunities to access health care, education, and other needs, as well as employment. And expanding highways while cutting transit also hurts our air quality, which is already much worse this year than it was last year.”

BHCW and MICAH are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and by Midwest Environmental Advocates, both non-profit organizations that support environmental justice. Download a copy of the complaint.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison. Read more news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on the Forward for Liberty blog.

Midwest Environmental Advocates is a non-profit environmental law center that works for healthy water, healthy air, healthy land and healthy government for this generation and the next. MEA believes that every citizen has the potential to make a difference. Learn more about MEA on their website,


A is for ACLU and Avenue Q

2 Aug

Tickets on sale now…

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, in partnership with Skylight Music Theatre, presents a special preview of the Milwaukee premiere of Avenue Q!

Join us on Thursday, September 20 for an evening of irreverent fun and free expression. Thursday night is the final, full-dress rehearsal for Avenue Q and a limited number of seats will be sold to benefit the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

When – September 20, 2012:

6:00 p.m. – Reception – cocktails and ample hors d’oeuvres

7:30 p.m. – Avenue Q in the Cabot Theater

Where – Skylight Music Theatre:

Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202

Tickets for the September 20 event are on sale now! Buy tickets online or if you cannot make the event, consider making a donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

Find more about the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q on their website.

Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical and written by the composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q is a hilarious adult-themed spoof of Sesame Street. Part flesh (human), part felt (puppets) and packed with heart, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby NYC apartment in the only neighborhood he can afford, all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that the residents of his building are not your ordinary neighbors. Together, Princeton and his new friends struggle to find decent jobs, stable relationships and a purpose in life, but ultimately realize the real world isn’t so bad after all.

This event is made possible by:

Birch Lodge Fund of

the Cream City Foundation

Pam Kriger

 Johnson & Pabst

LGBT Humanity Fund

of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Host Committee:

Ross Draegert & Robert Starshak

Paul Fairchild

Pam Kriger

Jennifer Morales

Joseph Pabst

Louis Weisberg

Paul Williams

Are Student Votes on the Moving Truck? Early Primary Voting Starts Today

30 Jul

Today, Monday July 30, is the first day Wisconsin voters can take advantage of early and absentee voting before the August 14 primaries. Voting early, either in person at municipal clerks’ offices or by requesting an absentee ballot, makes civic participation and exercising the right to vote something citizens can do in their own time and on their own terms.

But amidst some lively, competitive primary races, some voters in Wisconsin may be trying to find their right to vote among boxes and packing peanuts. Student voters in particular are navigating new changes to elections law that put primary election day right on the cusp of the start date for many new leases. College towns like Madison are abuzz with moving vans on August 14. Some students even find themselves very temporarily homeless as one lease ends on August 14 and the next one begins on August 15.

Act 75 was signed by Governor Walker on November 16, 2011 so that Wisconsin could comply with the Federal Military and Overseas Voters Act. In order to make sure military and overseas voters could receive and mail back ballots, the date of the primaries were bumped up in states across the nation. Act 75 also included an option for these voters to receive their ballots and instructions electronically. Democratic legislators tried to get electronic balloting options included in the law for all voters, but that effort failed. (More electronic options should be the future of voting: Wisconsin Election Protection issued their report on the June 5 Recall Election in which they recommended options for people to show proof of residence electronically.)

We’ve blogged before about how changes in the elections rules and calendars impact student voters. It is unfortunate that thousands student voters who want to participate in primary elections will be experiencing the major life disruptions that come with moving in the back-to-school season. Fortunately early/absentee voting is still an option. Remind your fellow Wisconsin citizens that they can vote in the primaries now. For those who moved to a new Wisconsin address after July 18, voters will have to vote in the polling place connected to where they last established residency.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation knows that citizens have the right to vote without barriers, misinformation or intimidation. We will continue to work to educate voters about their rights in order to counter the confusion, lack of clear information or the misinformation on the changes voting laws.

Recall Elections Report Released: Election Protection Says Law Changes Disfranchised Voters

25 Jul

The following press release was issued by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition today. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation is a member of Wisconsin Election Protection. Thanks to all of the attorneys, volunteers, observers, polling place staffers and watchdogs who help keep Wisconsin’s elections system strong. Together, we can all help to make it better. Read on for ways our elections can be improved to allow all eligible voters to cast their ballot.

Recent changes in voting laws in Wisconsin disfranchised voters in the June 5 Recall Election, according to a report issued by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition today. Voter and poll worker misinformation and confusion over photo ID requirements, registration and residency documentation and the lack of corroboration kept eligible voters from casting a ballot. The Wisconsin Election Protection report suggests changes the State of Wisconsin can make to improve our voting system to ensure that all voters can participate in our elections.

Wisconsin Election Protection, in cooperation with the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, sponsored the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline for the Recall Election where attorneys and highly trained volunteers answered more than 2,000 calls from voters and poll observers. In cooperation with The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network more than 150 observers were placed in polling places around the state. The report issued today is a summary of issues attorneys and volunteers addressed state-wide.

“The biggest problems that we saw are that misinformation, limited poll worker training and recent changes in state law that make it harder to register and vote are the real problems that must be addressed before the November Presidential Election,” said Milwaukee attorney and hotline coordinator Attorney Ann Jacobs. “Claims of voter fraud that some raised after the election were found to be simply incorrect. The greatest threats to our elections are in the impediments eligible voters face on Election Day.”

The Wisconsin Election Protection report outlines concerns the coalition has with confusion over registration and residency documentation, voter and poll worker misinformation and confusion over photo ID requirements polling place location changes, lines and delays for voters, inadequate registration forms and ballots in a high-turnout election, and inadequate training for poll workers – particularly after there have been significant changes in voting laws, and some instances of voter intimidation by elections observers and poll workers.

The report also includes recommendations for the 2012 Presidential Election that the Government Accountability Board should consider including:

  • Improving guidance on what documents are and are not acceptable for voter registration;
  • Allowing proof of residence to be in electronic form (as many utilities, banks and other formal institutions move to online statements);
  • Posting the DMV hotline so that voters who have lost their driver’s licenses or state ID cards can call for the number needed to register;
  • Restoring corroboration for voters who do not have residency documentation in their names;
  • Restoring the ability to send and receive absentee ballots by e-mail or fax;
  • Improving Chief Inspectors’ and poll workers’ training statewide;
  • Ensuring adequate signage, ballots and registration materials for high-turnout elections;
  • Using a single, uniform statewide  voter registration form;
  • Expanding voter education; and communicating with all voters and poll workers about the current status of the Voter ID law.

These changes would improve Wisconsin’s voting system for the August 14 primaries and the November 6 election. Coalition members will be working to educate citizens about their voting rights for upcoming elections. For the Presidential Election, Wisconsin Election Protection will again have trained volunteers and attorneys staffing the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline and observing polling places. 

Wisconsin Election Protection is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations whose purpose is to protect voting rights, expose and prevent voter intimidation, and to preserve access to the polls for all voters.  For more on Wisconsin Election Protection, visit our Facebook page or follow us @EPWisco on Twitter. Find more about the national Election Protection project online.

Download the full Wisconsin Election Protection report on the June 5 Recall Election

Download a PDF of the Wisconsin Election Protection press release on the report

Summer of Peace Preview: Civil Liberties at the Heart of Milwaukee’s ACLU Public Art Student Alliance

20 Jul

ACLU Public Art Student Alliance (PASA) members work on their float.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation will join with Milwaukee community organizations to mark the tenth annual Summer of Peace event on Friday, July 27, 2012.

Rooted in a peace-arts program, the Summer of Peace offers teens workshops on conflict resolution and culminates in a free peace rally.  Read more about this year’s event in the Milwaukee Community Journal. The event has a website and a Facebook page with more information and updates.

The event will have youth exhibitions of their workshop projects including mini-activities on their awareness campaigns. Participating organizations will have information booths and the event will include food, musicians, artists, crafts and other entertainers. The All City Parade (Milwaukee Public Theatre) will join with the Summer of Peace to sponsor a colorful parade from Sherman Park to Washington Park involving community-created giant puppets, dancers, musicians and stilt-walkers. The event begins at 10:00 a.m.

Katie Jesse and Paige Coe (as Violin), are a part of the section “Moving to the Beat of Your Own Drum”

In light of the attention to the tragic shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as well as recent violence experienced by Milwaukee youth, the Summer of Peace offers a timely opportunity to address racism, civil rights and liberties, and the violence experienced by urban youth. As Milwaukee continues to lead the nation in segregation and disproportionate incarceration of people of color, the city needs a call to peace and unity.

Founded in 2002 by Tanya Cromartie and Fidel Verdin, Summer of Peace 365 involves facilitators who work year-round with teens on character and leadership building, conflict resolution and building compassion. Participants are trained as community advocates who are empowered to act as positive agents of change in their communities. Through the work of a diverse coalition of organizations, artists, poets, entertainers, community leaders, civil libertarians, restorative justice facilitators, racial justice experts, anti-bullying trainers and professionals will work together to address youth empowerment.

Organizations involved in “All-City Summer of Peace Coalition” include the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation,  Boys and Girls Clubs, Children’s Outing Association, COA Youth and Family Center, Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre, Peace Action, Running Rebels, Safe and Sound Inc., Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, True Skool, UNCOM, United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee, Urban Ecology Center, Washington Park Partners and others.

ACLU Public Art Student Alliance arts interns learn how to craft visual images through paper mache.

Community support is needed to stage the Summer of Peace event. To help with the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation public arts program, contact Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre at or (414) 272-4032 x 223. For more information about the event, please contact Tanya Cromartie-Byrd at (414) 326-0507 or to be a sponsor, donate materials, volunteer, register for the rally or participate in the pre-rally activities.

Southeastern Wisconsin Demands Equity in Transit – Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Implications of SEWRPC

18 Jul

This week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation took another step in speaking up for people who use public transit. In southeastern Wisconsin, plans for spending your tax dollars are being made in a way that are discriminatory and contribute harm to our environment. Here’s how our comments to a regional planning organization impact the civil rights of people who live in Milwaukee.

Here is the update from ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s Karyn Rotker. Ms. Rotker is the foundation’s Race, Poverty and Civil Liberties Attorney: 

Background on transportation decision-makers in government:

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are agencies created by government to address regional planning. And the big reason they’re important – especially in a segregated region like southeastern Wisconsin – is that they have a lot of say over what happens with federal transportation dollars. The MPO for the seven counties in and around Milwaukee is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).

Because we know that persons of color and persons with disabilities in southeastern Wisconsin are much more likely to depend on public transit – for work, school, medical care, and more – and because Wisconsin is spending billions of dollars to beef up highways while public transit is in crisis, we’re telling the federal government that it needs to make our planners put more focus on transit and less on adding highway capacity – which just leads to more segregated sprawl.  These maps, prepared by SEWRPC itself, show just how isolated persons of color and persons with disabilities are.

The role of the federal government:

Every four years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have to certify that MPOs are following federal laws, including civil rights and environmental justice standards. Because we don’t think these concerns have been taken seriously in the past, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and our civil rights and environmental justice allies put together some comments that go into the background of segregation in this region along with a lot of suggestions on what needs to improve. To download our most recent comments, click on the document link at the bottom of the page.

What SEWRPC needs to change to ensure nondiscriminatory transit options:

The comments are available on the web, but some of our main points are that our regional planners need to make sure that:

• They use more federal “highway” funds to expand transit: federal rules on spending allow for the option to use funds for highway OR transit projects. SEWRPC should use flex funds to expand transit options to meet environmental justice needs in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Priorities should emphasize civil rights and environmental justice: a transportation improvement plan should look at how decisions impact minority neighborhoods and urban workers’ ability to access their jobs from affordable housing. SEWRPC doesn’t.

• Urban residents needs fair representation on the commission: The way SEWRPC is structured now, Ozaukee County – which has less than 10% of the number of residents as Milwaukee County – gets the same number of votes as Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee, where the majority of the whole region’s population of color and a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities live, gets no vote at all. For SEWRPC to fairly represent the region, the makeup of the commission should reflect populations proportionately. 

We hope that this time the federal government takes those concerns seriously. If you want to join us in speaking up for fair transit, contact me at the ACLU of Wisconsin,

Recertification Review Comments July 16, 2012-2

Voter ID On Hold, But Residency Requirements Lead to Confusion

18 Jul

Wednesday, July 18th starts the 28-day timeframe by which Wisconsin citizens establish their residency for voting. Wisconsin voters who move after Wednesday will have to register and vote at their old address in order to cast a ballot for the August primaries.

Don’t be surprised if residency requirements seem a bit confusing. For the June 5 recall election, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, through our work with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection (@EPWisco) effort, helped to field many questions from voters about when residency restrictions began and what documents were needed to prove residency for those who were registering on Election Day. A complete list of documents needed to prove residency is available on the GAB website.

Residency requirements raised a lot of questions for college student voters who wanted to vote in the June recall, but moved away from their college residence after the end of the semester,” said Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The new residency rules will definitely impact student voters this fall, particularly those who live or go to school in places where the primary races are the most competitive.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s legal department interviewed students from around the state who would be impacted by the requirements to show a photo ID to vote. Students who move to Wisconsin from out of state would be particularly impacted by voter ID if their school did not have a free student ID that complied with the law. But even students who live in Wisconsin year-around are impacted by new residency restrictions if they move between their family and college residence.

Yesterday a second judge issued an order to stop the implementation of the Voter ID law. A federal lawsuit from the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is still pending.  Read more about why we filed suit and why we amended our lawsuit to include a Voting Rights Act claim about the discriminatory racial impact of the law.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.